The End of the World

The year was 2012. The date the 21 st of December. The day the world would end. At least according to some prophets of doom that interpreted the end of the ancient Mayan calendar in that way. Most people didn't believe it. I certainly didn't and neither did Francis and Callum. Raoul on the other hand... He did believe. He had always loved everything morbid and so was drawn to the sinister message of death and destruction like a moth to the flame. I awoke in the early hours of that damned 21 st of December quite suddenly. I bolted upright in bed and rubbed my eyes. My heart was pounding and an icy shiver of dread ran down my spine as the last remnants of a bad dream clung to my thoughts like spider-webs. When I looked up, I could just make out a figure standing in front of the window. A black shadow outlined against the grey darkness that filled my room by the pale moonlight that fell through the partly closed curtains. I screamed and instinctively scrambled backwards until my back hit against the iron frame of the bed. A cold hand pressed down over my mouth while another cold hand brushed a strand of sweat-soaked hair from my forehead. “Don't be frightened, it's just me,” a familiar voice whispered into my ear. The warm breath tingled on my skin and sent another shiver down my spine – that one not of fright but a giddy mixture of relief and excitement. Damn the man! The hand lifted from my mouth and the figure sat down on the bed next to me. “Raoul,” I sighed and reached out to take his hand in mine. It was cold and pale like a block of marble. Always so cold these days. His sallow skin seemed almost translucent in the silvery moonlight and his dark eyes glittered with a hidden fire. It surprises me every time how much like the man he used to be Raoul still looks while at the same time he is nothing like that any more. Not since... Well, since Raoul had allowed Callum to turn him into a vampire. Since he had been reborn to the blood and eternal night, as he liked to called it. It had happened not even one year ago. I had been there when his human, infected blood had leaked out of his body from his slashed wrists in two crimson rivulets. I had been there when his poor broken heart had stopped beating. I had been there when Callum had fed his blood to Raoul, when he opened his eyes again and was no longer human. I shivered and pushed those thoughts away. Too much pain and madness had followed and even to this day I could see the lines of doubt and guilt etched deep into Callum's face. Had he done the right thing? Had the price that had been paid to save Raoul from certain death been too high? Raoul kept staring at me, his eyes locked to mine. A frown crept into his

expression and he ground his teeth. A dark shadow passed in the depths of those hazel eyes and I wondered what he remembered of the time of madness that had followed his turning. The creature that had woken that night back in February had had nothing in common with Raoul apart from the body and the face. It had been a wild animal in human form, crazed by the insatiable hunger for blood, dangerous and ferocious. It had to be chained to keep it from running wild and killing innocent people. Callum knew no other way out but to lock it up in a damp storeroom deep down in the cellars that stretched in endless labyrinths underneath his Edwardian house on Primrose Hill. When Callum had walked up the stairs from the cellar, Raoul's screams echoing behind him that first morning as a pale sunrise coloured the horizon, he looked so heartbroken that I thought he was going to kill both of them. He didn't but he wept as he locked the cellar door behind him. He wept as he called out for Roberto and asked for extra locks and bars and chains. “What are you doing here?” I finally asked. “Why did you have to sneak up on me like that? You could've simply rung the bell, you know?” Raoul laughed softly and tilted his head a little. “I hadn't planned on waking you, my dear. I had come to steal one last glance at you before the world ends.” “Oh, don't start with this nonsense again,” I grumbled but squeezed his hand tight. “It's not nonsense,” he protested. “I can feel it in my bones. In a way, it all makes sense, doesn't it? The end of an era to purge the earth of the vermin that is humankind. To end all the vile deeds we deal out to one another all the time, to end the strive and suffering.” I studied his face for a long moment, hung my head and fought the tears that burned in my eyes. No matter what he did, which choices he made, whatever fame and fortune or love he found, the darkness always caught up with him, dragged him down and made him wish for death. I wasn't sure how much more of this I could take. It broke my heart. Every time. I still loved him. He was my friend. “What are you going to do?” “Ah,” he let go of my hand and got up. He stood with his back to me for a second, then whirled around. “Go to a party and dance with death. What else? Isn't that what people expect Raoul Sinclair to do?” He smiled but it was a sad smile and didn't light up his eyes. “You could come with me,” he added. The silent plea was only too obvious in his voice. “You could come with me and die with me. Don't let me go alone into that good night.” I shook my head. “No! No, I won't! I don't want to die, Raoul. Not any more! Wasn't it you who was mad at me for almost dying back then when I was in hospital, hooked up on machines? Wasn't it you who insisted that life was worth living despite of all the pain and heartache? Don't do this tonight, please!” “Yes,” he said. The word was a soft whisper in the dark. “Yes, and I meant it at the time. But... I can't bear it any more, Stefan. The hunger... the madness... they're stronger than ever. They lurk in every fibre of my body, in every drop of blood in my veins, every thought, every dream, every breath I take. I'm sorry, I just can't... Forgive me, Stefan. Please

forgive me.” He threw me one last look, then turned on his heel and was gone. Into the shadows. To his infernal party. To his destruction. His death. “Oh Raoul,” I whispered into the silence around me. Tears were running down my cheek and I let them fall. Didn't he know that I had always forgiven him? That I would always forgive him? Forgive yes, but never forget. **********

The shadows led me to my final destination. A derelict red-brick building close to the river in the south-east of London. Barbed wire topped the walls that ran around it. The windows had all been nailed shut. The planks and old cardboard that filled the empty sockets of their unseeing eyes had been painted black and red in turns. The stairs that ran up to the entrance was covered ankle-deep in shards of broken glass. They glittered in the moonlight as I stood underneath a street-lamp on the other side of the road. My throat was tight and my eyes burned with tears I could not cry. Damn the boy! Leaving Stefan was the hardest thing. Had always been the hardest thing. I forced a deep breath and slipped on a pair of dark sunglasses. Sunlight gave me a blasted headache these days, blinded me and made my bones ache. It had no power to destroy me but its effects were enough to make me grumpy. I searched the pockets of my leather jacket for a pack of fags. I fished one out of the crumbled package and lit it with the flick of a match. Being immortal at least meant I could go back to mortal vices. I was still human enough that I could get a thrill out of alcohol, drugs and tobacco but the vampire blood in my veins kept me safe from their devastating side-effects I had known so well not that long ago. I stood smoking my cigarette down to the butt, just watching and thinking. This was it then. The end of the world. The last day. Armageddon. The last curtain call. My final goodbye. I closed my eyes briefly. At once images of mass destruction flashed up in my head. Fire raining from the darkened sky as bombs fell. A hot wind that blew the sickly stench of death and rotting flesh into my face as another Atomic Bomb exploded behind the horizon. Waves, taller that the skyscrapers Prince Charles had called blemishes on the face of London, that rolled over the city, drowning everything and everyone it their wake. Screams of desperation, of pain rang in my ears. I could smell the smoke as cars, houses and bodies burned. I could hear the beating of enormous wings as the dark angles of death swept down from the Heavens with their flaming swords of justice. I opened my eyes again. Everything was like it had been yesterday and the day before. Decayed, yet beautiful in its injured and faded glory. The remains of days gone by next to the monuments to a concrete and glass future which caught the first sunlight and glittered like so many diamonds. Why was it that I didn't see gold but only cheap lamé wherever I looked? I began to shiver. The night had been cold, just around freezing and the day promised to be almost as cold. My breath painted little white clouds into the air close to my face and I

tried to convince myself that I was ready. Ready to leave the stage for good. Damn, can anyone ever be ready for the world to end? The destruction of everything we have ever know is just too much to imagine. Would planet earth go up in flames? Would it be shattered into a billion pieces by some asteroid? Would it spiral into the sun in a last, drunken dance? Nobody would find out, because we all would be dead long before our blue jewel began its death throes. Nobody would be there to play silent witness. Nobody. Not even the Gods for surely they would die too when there was nobody left to worship them. Those were grim thoughts and they nearly overwhelmed me as I stood there smoking my second cigarette. I watched as the smoke curled and drifted away, knowing I was stalling for time. I barked out a short laugh, laced with madness and despair. What a silly thing to do, stalling for time, when time was the thing that was running out for all of us as the end of everything drew closer! I tossed the butt to the pavement and started walking. Across the road, up those stairs. The broken glass crunched underneath my heels. Some shards left cuts just above where the protective leather of my faithful Doc Marten boots ended. They were shallow and hardly hurt at all. Which was a pity for pain was the one thing these days that reminded me that I was still alive. The entrance was a dark gaping hole as what was left of the rotten door had been kicked in and lay on the filthy floor that lay beyond. Someone had sprayed the words 'Welcome to the Suicide Saloon' on a concrete wall at the far end. Big, winding letters in violets and blues. Beautiful and foreboding. Noise drifted up to me from down below – voices, muffled music, laughter, shrieks of delight and torment. Other people had left their footprints in the dust and grime on the floor and I followed them down the corridor, around a corner and down some stairs. On and on they went, twisting and turning, leading ever deeper into the hidden cellars and catacombs below. Memories of another cellar, of damp walls and silver chains around my wrists, ankles and throat stirred at the back of my mind. I didn't even know if the recollection angered or scared me. The music got louder with every corner I turned – it was a wild cacophony of drums and electronic noise, a primal soundtrack to the last ever carnival. It was still early, only past 7 in the morning and only past 3 o'clock on the other side of the world in Mexico City where no doubt thousands and thousands of people would flock to the ancient temples and pyramids to await the return of their gods: Hunahpu and Xbalanque, the hero twins, the thirteen creator gods and most certainly the jaguar god of death. Eventually I reached what seemed to be the lowest level. The stairs ended and a narrow tunnel led to a huge arch build into a thick brick wall. Heavy curtains of black velvet hung from the ceiling behind it and blocked what lay beyond from view. The bouncers were an odd pair: one was a tall, matchstick-thin man wearing a black Victorian outfit complete with frock coat and top hat, which made him look like an undertaker. The other was a drag queen with broad shoulders and killer heels. She wore black from head to toe, quite literally speaking. Her wig was a black version of the famous Dusty Springfield beehive, her eye shadow, lipstick and nail varnish were all black and her

dress was a tight fitting, yet flowing affair out of satin that looked smooth as sin and black as night. They faced me as I approached, following my every move with their eyes. The undertaker even pulled a monocle out of a pocket in his waistcoat. His eye was grotesquely huge behind the lens and seemed to look right through me. The drag queen took some tiny steps in my direction and laughed, a deep, throaty laugh. “Look whom we've got here,” she exclaimed in a fake high-pitched voice that immediately got on my nerves. “Our first celebrity of the day!” The undertaker, who reminded me more than just a little bit of Riff Raff from the Rock Horror Picture Show, bowed so low that his nose nearly touched the ground. “Pleased to see you here, Mr Sinclair, Sir,” he mumbled as he held the curtain back so that I could enter. “Don't let him pass so quickly,” the drag queen shrieked and rushed to my side. “Wait, darling, wait.” As I turned to ask what it was that she wanted, I found myself embraced by her strong arms and crushed to her enormous bosom, no doubt created out of silicone pads and wonder-bras. One of her hands grabbed my bum and gave it a good squeeze, the other held the back of my head and before I knew what was happening, she was kissing me hard and deep. And boy, could I feel that the girl got a kick out if it! I wasn't particularly interested in her but I let her kiss me for a long, breathless moment. It would be her last chance to lay her hands on me, would it not? When things got a little more heated, I growled low in my throat, broke the kiss and bared my teeth. The drag queen stared at me with eyes as big as saucers and swallowed so hard it sent her Adam's Apple bouncing up and down. “It's true then,” she whispered. “You're a vampire now. Can you turn me, Raoul?” I looked her up and down, feeling a sudden rage taking over. “No,” I yelled. “I won't turn you. I won't turn anybody. Get out of my way!” I shoved them aside as I stepped through the parted curtain. I was glad to feel the thick cloth brush against my shoulder as it fell close again. As I was still wearing my sunglasses, it took me a moment to see anything in the dim red light that lit the room in front of me. The bare walls had been covered with sheets of cheap velvet in crimson and black. A crazy light installation that looked like a cross between a chandelier and a modern art version of a mobile hung roughly from the middle of the ceiling. It had been made form surgical instruments of all sorts, held together by barbed wire and fairy lights. Most charming. The bar to the left side of the room was already fairly busy. A mismatched collection of armchairs, sofas and chaise lounges were tucked into the corner of the room to my right, while a small wooden stage had been squeezed in for good measure. As I took in the surroundings, three skeletons were dancing a Can-Can on that raised up wooden platform. Not actual skeletons of course but three lads dressed in black catsuits and skiing masks which had the bones painted on in glow in the dark yellowish-white paint. Made me think of the Tim Burton film The Corpse Bride. I crossed the room to the bar and found myself standing next to some pale Goth kids who couldn't have been much older than 15. Their eyes were vacant, their laughter hollow and shrill. They had turned to zombies even before the world had died around

them. I ordered a cocktail called Death in the Afternoon, which consisted of champagne and absinthe. It came in a antique looking crystal glass engraved with a grinning skull and looked like mist caught in a jar. It tasted vile but that didn't keep me from finishing it. I switched to plain absinthe after that though. I spent an hour or two in that first room, slowing getting drunk while I watched people come and go, watched them dance and occasionally chatted to people who sat down next to me at the bar. At one point I danced with a lady in her 50s, who had short cut hair and wore a suit, Marlene Dietrich style. The absinthe made my head swim, my thoughts drift and caused me to see things which weren't there. The shadows on the walls became dancing devils, the laughter of people around me the cry of the Banshee, the tiny lights above me will-o'-the-wisps leading me astray. I felt the need to move on. I was hungry and I longed for the taste of blood in my mouth. Leaving the lady without a word of explanation, I found a door leading out into another room. That one looked like a proper club. The dance-floor was packed, with men and women in roughly equal amounts. Most were aged from 20 to 35, with a few older guys lurking in the shadows. Some were as good as naked, other wore costumes that would've made the Rubber Ball look tame. Gods, I had found the fetish and leather part of the party. The smell of poppers mixed with that of dried ice and sweat. It became clear that dancing was only one way to describe what was going on in this huge space. It was sex in all forms, combinations and variations. Bodies were grinding into each other everywhere I looked. Breasts were exposed as well as bums and cocks. Whips lashed the air, parted skin and left ruby ribbons behind. Handcuffs and gags were favourite toys as were gas masks. I found myself wondering if those were just another fetish accessory or if the fools believed they was going to safe them in the end. I pushed through the crowd, got lost in its middle and danced and groped along with all the others for a while. I let myself drift and eventually found myself face to face with a handsome young man in a latex steam punk outfit complete with goggles and a walking stick. Even in the dim light I could see that his hair had been dyed a deep inky blue and that his eyes were pale grey. They lit up in recognition as they fixed on me but to his credit, the young man only inclined his head in greeting. He smiled at me and continued to dance, to move his slim body in time with the pumping bass of the loud techno music. I liked the way he looked at me so I moved closer and gave myself over to the rhythm as well. Soon we were encircling one another, hips and legs touching, shoulders brushing and all the rest of it. When one tune faded, I leaned close to him. “I want you,” I simply said, not caring that it might sound cheesy. I was too drunk to care and then it was not like I would live to regret what I had done. He grinned and licked his lips but then moved away from me in an elegant twirl. As he danced in ever closer circles around me, he lifted up his walking stick and began to poke me with it. He ran it down my chest and up between my legs. The pressure of the smooth wood was enough to get his point across but not enough to hurt. I was beginning to enjoy myself. He laughed when he found

evidence of my arousal but before he could do or say anything, I was upon him, holding him fast while I forced his head down for a bruising kiss. I was careless and my fangs grazed his lips and tongue, parted the skin and let little drops of blood flow into my mouth. I moaned as his taste exploded on my tongue. He was young, so young and yet so wicked. I could taste it with the drugs in his system. I could smell it with the scent of lube and semen that clung to his outfit. For a brief moment fear flicked in his eyes as he realized what I had become. He didn't flinch though as I pulled him closer without breaking the kiss. I ran my hands over his bums, squeezing hard and enjoyed the feel of the smooth, hot latex. It clung so tight to the body of my new conquest, just like a second skin. It did do little to conceal the bulge in his trousers. When the kiss ended, I felt dizzy and breathless but also so very much alive. I closed my eyes as his hands began to explore my body. When he tore the fabric of my T-shirt, I laughed. He hit me hard with his walking stick as punishment, across the back of my knees. The unexpected blow and the sudden pain caused my legs to give in instantly. I found myself down on my knees as the walking stick crashed down on my back a few times. Its caress no doubt left bruises but I felt that was a small price to pay to find myself on eye level with the part of his anatomy I desired most. I managed to grab him by the hips and force him to stand still long enough to pull down the zip. He didn't wear underwear, which I found both very satisfying and amusing. His dick bounced free and I gave it an experimental lick. I did not care that we were in the middle of a few hundred people. When I closed my eyes, we were very much alone. The only people in the universe. The only people that mattered. “Bite me,” he hissed. His words were as much command as plea. I liked this bloke, like him very much. Too bad that our acquaintance would be such a short one. As an answer I took his dick in my mouth and began to suck. I let it slide as far down my throat as I felt comfortable with and let him fuck my mouth. When he was hard and more than eager, I sank my fangs into the soft and tender flesh near the base of his dick while my tongue licked the underside of his shaft to keep him from pulling out of my mouth. He cried out but then moaned again. I buried my face in his groin, grabbed him by the hips and continued to lick and suck. His blood ran down my throat, hot and salty and my head began to spin. I lost control. I ended up being fucked by my steam-punk friend while a slightly older lad who wore nothing safe for one of those infernal gas masks, strapped me to a St. Andrew's Cross. Other men came and went, they all sucked my dick but I can't recall much of those activities. I must've come, for I was taken down from the Cross eventually. I laughed as I realized that I was bleeding all over. Just like a true martyr. Someone gave me a line of coke and I took it eagerly. I had more drinks. I took poppers and pills. Time vanished. Faces blurred. It was all bodies and blood. Skin and dicks and balls and mouths and bums. Hands touching, squeezing, groping, teasing. I plundered every mouth that moved close enough to mine to kiss. I bend every neck, exposed every throat and drank more blood in those hazy drug-fuelled hours than I had in all the months since I had been turned. It was bliss. It was pure sex, with no thought of tenderness or love. Brutal and primal. I no longer cared if I

fucked or was being fucked, it all blurred together in one long orgy. I must've blacked out at one point because when I came to again, I found myself lying face down on a lumpy mattress covered by a black latex sheet. My hands were bound behind my back and someone was trying to force something enormous into me. I tried to scream but found that I'd been gagged. I squirmed, trying to get away. Whatever they were doing to me hurt and I no longer wanted to be touched. I closed my eyes and focused my thoughts on my restrains. The handcuffs snapped open with a soft click and the elastic strap that held my gag in place suddenly became limp and useless. I spat the damn thing out, pushed myself up and staggered to my feet. I felt ill and feverish. My chest, arms and legs were covered in cuts, bruises and burn marks. The taste of blood was thick in my mouth and when I reached my hand out to touch my throat, I found that it was covered in blood as well. As I bared my teeth and let my fangs show, people around me began to step back. One guy had what looked like a bloody piece of human skin flung around his naked body like a grotesque cloak. The sight and the stench of it made me want to retch. I turned another way, looking for a way out, but found I could not move. Horror froze me to the spot. Blood was raining down from the water sprinklers underneath the ceiling. Everywhere I looked bodies lay motionless on the floor. Some had their throats torn out. Had that been me? Please God, no! Please, no! Anything but don't let me be a killer. I spotted other vampires in the crowd, lots of them. Some were very old, some had been turned only the night before. All very feral and hell-bend on destruction. They wanted to kill, as many humans as possible. The scream stuck in my throat as I saw a woman walk past me who was juggling little bloody balls. Human eyes. They glittered in the blinding strobe light and seemed to be watching me out of dead, milky pupils. The naked man with the gas mask appeared again. He dragged my steam punk lover behind him. The lad was bleeding from several deep wounds in his chest. I noted with some relieve that none looked like bite marks. They were all stab wounds, left by a long-bladed knife. “Here”, the man with the gas mask said. “You seemed to enjoy him most. Finish him off!” “What do you mean?” I stammered. “Finish him off? How?” “For God's shake, kill him,” a woman wearing nothing but her many piercings drawled, looking bored. “Kill him?” I repeated. “Why would I want to kill him?” “That's why we are here, to kill before we get killed. We all indulged in secret fantasies of maim and murder before. Not many of us dared to cross the line from fantasy to actual deed but today there is no line dividing the two. As the world ends, we can finally be who we really are!” She threw her head back and laughed and the others laughed with her. The boy was made to kneel in front of me. He looked like he was ready to pass out. The lower half of his face and his chest were covered in blood. When he gasped for breath and spat out a

mouthful of black blood, I realized that his tongue had been cut out. “No,” I whispered and shook my head. “I don't want to kill anybody. I'm not a murderer! Leave him alone!” Someone gave me a hard shove and knocked me off my feet. I landed face down on the floor. People kicked me hard as they walked past. One woman actually walked over my back. Her needle-thin metal heels dug deep into my skin and threatened to break the bone. I screamed and felt tears run down my cheek. When I had managed to scramble back to my knees and lifted my head I saw how an old man in a Vicar's outfit lifted a dagger. He dragged the steam punk boy to his feet, his fist in his dark blue hair. He held him close to his chest and forced his head back. The dagger moved from left to right in one quick, fluid motion. The blade caught the light and glittered. Less then a heartbeat later, blood spluttered everywhere in one great gush. The Vicar held the boy upright for at least a minute. The gaping wound in the boy's neck looked like a mouth, a grotesque, bloody smile. When the Vicar let go, the boy fell forward. He landed on his face with a sick, wet sound and the blood began to pool around his head. I felt my stomach turn and began to scream. I could not stop, even as I ran through the crowd, pushing and shoving everybody who stood in my way. I stumbled on blindly as bitter tears obscured my view, down corridor after corridor. A blast of sudden heat made me stop. It was followed by the most blood-curdling scream I had ever heard. I stopped dead in my tracks, wiped at my eyes and looked around. How on earth had I got dressed again? I had stumbled into a small room, which looked like an anteroom in a funeral parlour. Silent figures in scarlet robes and hoods that hid their faces guarded a pair of heavy doors. The scream had died as suddenly as it had begun. A small group of vampires stood a few steps away from the guards. They were quietly chatting among themselves. I was able to hear their words and they sent shivers of pure panic down my spine. They, too had come to die here. They did not want to wait for the apocalypse though, they wanted to make sure they'd never see another dawn. This really was a funeral parlour but behind the door lay no room full of coffins. Not even a morgue with stiffs in little cooling chambers. No, behind the door lay hell itself, ablaze with fire. A modern crematorium which would reduce even the oldest vampire to nothing but ash and bone once he'd stepped through the door and over the threshold. I sank to my knees, buried my face in my hands and began to sob. I didn't want to see any more. I felt so sickened by everything around me. We all deserved to die if that was what our world had become. A madhouse of violence and death. I don't know for how long I sat there and cried until I felt I had no more tears to spent. Nobody came to comfort me. Nobody asked if I was alright. Nobody offered help. Well, at least nobody came to try and kill me, I guess I should be grateful for that. I forced myself to get up. I needed to get out of this place. The Suicide Saloon... What an apt name, I thought. If you don't get yourself killed by those lunatic disciples of de Sade and de Rais, if you escape the fire pit you just want to slash your wrists. If what it took to wipe those horrible scenes you've witnessed from your memory was the sweet oblivion of death, so be it. I was so tired, so utterly drained of strength and will, that every single step forward

took some serious effort. I must have wandered those nightmare corridors for hours. Whenever I thought I had finally found my way back to that first room with the dancing skeletons, I'd look up or turn to find Gregori watching me from the crowd. It didn't matter if I backtracked my steps, searched high and low for another way, some secret path, a trap door, a forgotten underground river, anything at all really; whenever I had spied only the smallest means of escape, Gregori was there to crush that hope. In the end I found myself in a hall of mirrors. All I could see were rows and rows of them. A good dozen or more, neatly lined up, stretching back as far as the eye could see until even the glitter of the glass was lost in darkness. I stood frozen in the open door, my eyes glued to the countless mirrors before me. Goosebumps crawled over my flesh, the small hairs on my body stood on end. My mouth had gone dry. I was terrified. People stood facing one mirror at the time. They all seemed to wait. For what I had no clue and frankly speaking I did not want to know. I took a careful step backwards, then another. Finally able to shake my paralysis, I wanted to bolt and run but as I turned, bumped into an elderly man who wore a white lab coat over dress trousers, a stiff white shirt and a waistcoat. “Where do you think you're going, Mrs. Sinclair?” He asked. His voice was not unkind but laced with amusement. “I...,” I began but could not get my mouth to form words. It just could not be. The man in front of me looked like Pearson, the doctor who'd been in charge of my case at the last mental hospital I'd been in back in 1985. Pearson... He'd been old then, in his mid-60s at least. Now, more than 25 years later, he would be long retired, nearly 90 years of age and yet he looked just like he had all those years ago. “You can't leave us now, Mr. Sinclair. We've been waiting for you. Haven't we, boys?” As he called out the question, all the people waiting in front of the countless mirrors turned as one and I saw they all had the same face, the same eyes. “Marcus,” I whispered. A sudden pain cut through my chest, blinded me, robbed me of breath and made me stagger. Pearson steadied me enough so that I didn't fall. He slung an arm around my shoulder and pointed at one mirror in the middle of the the first row. “See that mirror, Mr. Sinclair? There's no-one standing in front of it. We've been saving the spot for you.” “No,” I muttered. “No, no, please...” I knew what would happen as soon as I had taken up my position in front of the mirror. I knew. Could see it reflected in the thousand shiny surfaces, in the eyes of a thousand people who were not Marcus. I could hear the noise echo through he silence that had fallen over the hall. I knew and I dreaded it more than anything. The last step forward. The pull of the cold that lay beyond. The desolate emptiness of the twilight land. The sound of an explosion, deafening and all-consuming as the mirror shattered. As all mirrors shattered. A cry of horror as hope died. “No,” I screamed. Pearson gave me a shove. I took one uncertain step forward and fell into darkness.



I'd been in the library all night. I'd watched the pale sunrise and the grey clouds drift over the sky as night gave way to morning. I lit another fire, drank too much Whiskey and too much coffee so that my head began to pound, my eyes to itch and I could no longer stifle a yawn. Still I did not dare to go to bed. I didn't dare to fall asleep. Not on this damn day. The 21st of December... Not because I believed in all that poppycock about the end of the world, oh no. But because Raoul believed in it and had been looking forward to this day of doom for so long. Heaven (or maybe Hell) only knew what follies he would be caught up in. What dangers he would court. I knew I should've been with him, at his side so that I could try at least to save him from himself and his obsessions. I wasn't though and I had my reasons. Good reasons. And yet... All those good reasons did nothing to dispel my fears. Suddenly a tingling sensation enveloped my left hand. The stone on my ring, which normally was the smooth, deep back of obsidian glass, had turned milky and grey. Clouds and patches of mist swirled in its depths. Something had happened! I jumped from the comfortable leather armchair I'd been sitting in, for a second overcome with dread. Then I opened my mind and found it was Stefan who was calling out to me from half way across the city. I could picture the scene without even closing my eyes. How my young friend sat cross-legged on top of an unmade bed, his face pale and worried, his eyes red-rimmed and puffy. “Raoul,” Stefan whispered the word. There was so much anguish in his voice that it caused my heart to ache. He had to swallow down another sob before he was able to speak again. “Raoul, he came here. He... He kind of said goodbye. I fear he's going to do something stupid, Callum. He looked so sad.” Without bothering with a reply I summoned the shadows to me and stepped into them. I'm afraid I gave Stefan quite a fright as I appeared without warning right next to his bed. He screamed and jumped and then threw a a pillow at me. “ Can't you guys wear bells or something? You'll give me a heart attack one of these days if you continue to show up like that!” I bowed slightly and smiled as I pulled up a chair and sat down facing Stefan who sill sat on his messy bed. “Apologies, I didn't mean to frighten you. I just thought it best not lose a moment. What did he say? Do you know where he went?” Stefan frowned and thought hard for a moment. “Not much, actually. He... asked me to forgive him for what he was about to do. He asked me to come to a party with him. That he would dance with death there.” “The fool,” I cursed. “Do you have any idea what party he was referring to?” Stefan shook his head, looking as miserable as sin. Poor boy. “No. Oh, wait. He gave me a leaflet a few days ago. It advertised a party. It had an odd name. Raoul joked that he

should have thought of it himself as I would've made a good album title. I have it somewhere...” Stefan got up and rushed next door. I heard him rummage through some drawers and then he was back, waving a little piece of paper through the air. I took it from his trembling hand and studied it for a moment. “The Suicide Saloon,” I read. “That sounds just like his cup of tea. It gives no address here. Did he say where it was?” “Not an address exactly,” Stefan told me. “But he said it was going to be held in a former warehouse, not far from where he used to life.” “What? Near Abney Park?” Stefan shook his head. “No. Close to the river.” “In Southwark then?” “I guess so, so at least close by.” I got up and balled my gloved hands into fists. “That only leaves how many miles of water front to explore? Get dressed, we better hurry.” Not five minutes had passed when Stefan rushed to my side again. He was dressed in an old pair of jeans, a mismatched pair of socks, on blue, one yellow, a grey woollen jumper, an army style anorak with a hood rimmed with fake fur, fingerless gloves and moon boots. Sometimes I wondered how someone so intelligent, sweet and good-looking could have such an appalling dress-sense. “Are we going to travel by shadows?” He asked. “No. We take your car. The shadows are no use if we don't know where to look.” It took us ages to get to what seemed like the best place to start our search for the needle in the haystack: Raoul's old flat, which had been only a short walk away from Tate Modern. We found clubs in the catacombs beneath the arches of Borough Market but nothing that fit the description on the leaflet. We drove on aimlessly for hours, going here and there because some one said they might know something. We encountered all sorts of end of the world scenarios: Goth kids dancing to The Cure and The Sisters of Mercy, New Age enthusiasts chanting themselves into a trance, frightened Christians huddled together in a derelict church singing hymns while their children cried. We saw people drugged up to their eyeballs who thought they could fly, people engaged in orgies and bloody fights and all the rest of it. By the time we pulled up near a nondescript red-brick building in a serious state of decay, I was ready to give up. Stefan looked similarly crestfallen as he climbed out of his car and shut the door with more force than necessary. He was desperate and so was I. People were milling about the entrance and the stairs leading to it. We exchanged one anxious look and crossed the road. I frowned as I realized that we were walking across layer upon layer of broken glass. I bend down and picked up a shard. It was a broken piece of mirror glass. Of course it could be nothing but a coincidence but when Raoul was involved I had long stopped to believe in coincidences. There was no door, only an empty frame and beyond more people, who were all

queuing to be allowed down the stairs. Stefan pointed to a concrete wall at the far end of the corridor. 'Welcome to the Suicide Saloon' had been written there in bright graffiti. That must be it then. Finally! We ignored the waiting crowd, marched past them and pushed and shoved our way down those stairs. It took me by surprise just how many of them there were, ramshackle and twisting, leading deeper underground. It did not make me look forward to the journey up. Stefan grabbed hold of my shoulder as someone pushed him from behind. “We should hurry,” he said breathlessly. “They aren't pleased we are jumping the queue.” They really weren't. Bottles and cans were thrown in our direction. Burning cigarette ends as well. People were shouting abuse at us, splashed beer over our heads and spit into our faces. It was most unpleasant but I barely took notice. I tried to call out in my mind to reach Raoul but there were too many people in that building. Too many thoughts drowning out his voice. When we reached the bottom, we were greeted by an ageing drag queen in runny make up and her even older companion, whose fake Victorian mourning clothes hung on on him like on a Scare Crow. His face was pale and hollowed out, the skin yellowish. He was ill, seriously ill, there was no doubt about it. I suspected the same virus that had threatened to kill Raoul. Was that what it was all about? To pretend that death could not happen because the world would end before it could catch up with you? “What do you want?” The drag queen tried to block our path. “Whatever it is, we don't want you here.” She swished her hand through the air. “Up, up you go. Up all those stairs again, like a good boy.” “We really don't want any trouble,” I began carefully. “We don't want to disrupt your party. We are just...” “Raoul, where is he?” Stefan demanded, clutching at the thin man's shoulders. “He's here, isn't he? Raoul Sinclair? Come on, you must've seen him. Please, we just want to take him home!” In his desperation Stefan had begun to shake the poor fellow. He looked startled at the mention of Raoul's name, then quickly threw a glance at his companion, then back at us. “Sinclair?” the drag queen asked, then hung her head. “Okay, okay, you can get him but make sure he doesn't come back. He's frightening the other guests.” Stefan let go of the thin man and looked at me, his eyes huge and full of fear. “Where is he? What happened?” The drag queen stepped aside to let us pass. A dyke, dressed like Elvis in his Vegas days, held a curtain apart and motioned at us to move forward. “I don't know what happened but Johnny here can show you were Sinclair is,” the drag queen offered. Her voice had dropped to her natural baritone and she sounded quite sincere when she added: “Good luck.” Johnny turned out to be a handsome young man, dressed in latex and leather in the so-called Neo-Victorian style. Goggles were strapped to his forehead, his hair had been dyed a ridiculous shade of blue and he carried a walking stick. Some shallow cuts ran across his cheek

and his exposed chest but he did not seem to be seriously hurt. “You are looking for Raoul?” He asked and shook our hands. When we nodded, he turned and pointed in the direction of a door at the far end of the room. “I'll take you. He was fun to be with but then he totally freaked out and lost it. It was scary and a bit sad as well.” He led the way and Stefan and I followed hot on his heels. “Some bar,” Stefan mumbled as we passed a little stage where dancers dressed as skeletons performed some awkward little ballet. Projections of ghosts and devils were flickering on the walls, unfocused and blurry. The music was so pathetic it nearly made me laugh. REM's The end of the world (as we know it) really wasn't the most innovative choice. Next came a packed room full of people dressed in more leather and latex. It seemed to be a strange cross between a dance-floor and a darkroom. Sex was quite openly displayed. I saw people being whipped and chained and strapped to crosses or wheels. Men cowered on their hands and knees as women with their faces covered by leather masks pulled at their leashes. Red paint that was supposed to look like blood was spattered around. The stench of sweat, poppers and sex was overwhelming. Room after room we passed, until we were finally led to a corridor stinking of piss and worse. “The toilets?” I asked. My voice sounded weary. I didn't not know what to expect but I feared for the worst. “Yes,” Johnny nodded and wrinkled his nose. “I know, it's a hell hole but it was only meant to be for one night.” “Raoul's in there then?” “Yeah, locked himself in. Refused to come out. Sometimes he's silent for a long time, then the just screams and screams. Made one hell of the racket once.” “Thank you for leading us here. It might be better if you wait around the corner. I've no idea how long this will take but we'll be needing you to guide us back.” “Sure. No problem,” Johnny shrugged his shoulders. “I'll be with with the Shamans. Don't dig their hot coals but they have something to drink and smoke.” We watched him disappear around the corner and stood facing each other for a moment. “What are we going to do?” Stefan asked. “I have no idea, “ I admitted. “I'll go in and check. You wait here.” Before he could protest, I was gone – into the shadows and behind the locked door. What I found was chaos. The toilet was a huge room with flickering neon lights and tiles that once had been white everywhere. Mirrors had lined the walls but now they were broken. All of them. The shards were all over the place: on the floor, in the urinals and water basins, on top of the slot machine that sold condoms. At the back of the room, the doors to all cubicles stood open. A pipe or two had burst and water was running down the walls. It had begun to flood the floor and slowly crept closer to where I stood. I found Raoul in the last cubicle. He lay face down on the floor, half covered by water. “Good God,” I exclaimed as I spotted him, stretched out, limbs akimbo, motionless. I rushed over to where he lay, not caring that the water was likely to ruin my

expensive patent leather shoes and knelt down next to him. I reached for the vein in his neck and found a weak pulse. Thank Heaven! I breathed a sigh of relief and carefully turned him around. He was so pale in the harsh neon light. His t-shirt was torn and his chest was covered in cuts that were already healing. His eyes behind the closed lids moved rapidly. A long thin shard of mirror glass was clenched tight in his right fist. Whatever he had meant to do with it, he hadn't done, thankfully enough. I lifted him off the ground and stood, wondering what to do next. He weighted next to nothing, even though his clothes were dripping with water. I shifted his head to my shoulder and slowly made my way back to the locked door. Just when I was about to reach for the handle to unlock it, Raoul stirred in my arms. He fought against my embrace, squirming and kicking. I tried to grip him tighter when he screamed. The sound startled me so badly I nearly dropped him to the floor. “Let me go, let me go,” he wailed. I was too busy trying to open the door and to not lose my grip on him that I didn't see how he lifted his hand and stabbed me with his damn shard of glass. I cried out in pain and this time was unable to hold him. He crashed to the floor and lay still for a moment. “Raoul, what have you done?” I asked through clenched teeth as I pulled the shard out of the wound in my shoulder. The bastard had managed to drive it deep into my flesh. No doubt some pieces of mirror remained stuck in there but that was something to worry about later. I ignored the blood that poured out of the wound. Stefan was hammering on the closed door. “What's the matter? Callum, answer me! What's the matter? Are you alright?” I knelt down to pick up Raoul again. This time his eyes were open but he did not seem to see. At least he did not recognize me and tried to crawl away. I framed his face with my hands and forced him to look deep into my eyes. “It's me Raoul, Callum. You don't have to be afraid any more. I'm here to help you. Stefan is here as well. No-one will hurt you. Do you understand?” He stared back at me, but his eyes were vacant. I sighed softly and did the thing I'd always had done in situations like that. I sang to him. That stupid little song and had meant so much to him once. “Child of darkness, child of light, your guiding star will shine tonight...” He smiled the ghost of a smile. His lips moved but no words came out. Then his body grew limp as he passed out once more. I inhaled deeply and went to open the door. Stefan flew past me and stopped abruptly when he spotted Raoul on the floor. “Is he...?” “No,” I said before he could finish the sentence. “No, he's not. He's alive.” I picked him up and looked at Stefan. “Better hold on tight, I have no patience to walk back up all those stairs.” **********


I hate travelling by shadow. Almost as much as I hate stepping through the mirror. I always fear I will get lost. This time was no exception, so I clung to Callum's arm like a drowning man to a lifeline. I was glad when we stepped out of the shadows a few seconds later and breathed a sigh of relieve to find myself in the corridor on the first floor which led to the guest rooms. Callum stood next to me. He, too looked relieved to be out of that strange club. Without having to be told, I opened the door to the one guest room Raoul always stayed in when he visited Callum, drew back the covers and fluffed the pillows. Callum followed a few steps behind me and gently laid Raoul down on the bed. “Help me to take his jacket off,” he ordered. He held Raoul up, while I took care of the jacket. His t-shirt came off without much help, it had been so badly torn that it literally hung on him by a single thread. As I went to unlace his heavy Doc Marten's boots, Callum leaned over Raoul's face. I could not see what he was doing, but when he lifted his head again, he wrinkled his nose and shook his head. “Infusion of Valerian again?” I asked as I let the boots drop to the floor. “No,” Callum shook his head and gave me a weary smile. “It won't do him any good in the state he's in.” “What's the matter with him anyway?” Callum's first answer was a snort. A cross between a short, bitter laugh and a sigh. He sat down on the edge of the bed, took Raoul's hand in his and pressed his fingertips down, measuring his pulse. “He's drunk. And drugged up to the eyeballs, if I'm not mistaken.” He lifted up Raoul's arm and sank his fangs into the vein on his wrist. He couldn't have taken more than a little sip because he released it almost at once, carefully licked all blood from the tiny wound and placed the hand on top of Raoul's chest. He grimaced, like someone who'd bitten into an extremely sour lemon and shook his head again. “The damn fool!” “What is it?” “He drank too much blood. From too many different people. From more than a dozen, if I were to wager a guess.” I sat down at the foot of the bed and studied Raoul as he lay there, still and white as a statue. Only the rapid movement behind his closed eyes gave away the fact that he was not dead. “Why's that a bad thing?,” I asked. “Because,” Callum started and then winced. “Mixing the blood of too many people during a short period of time is like mixing drinks,” he snapped. He shifted his position on the bed, took a deep breath and went on: “It's like if you start the evening with some Champagne, then switch to a pint of bitter, then to red wine and vodka, add a sweet little cocktail then and finish off with some mulled cider.” “Yikes,” I muttered. “Makes me feel sick just thinking about drinking all that.” Callum smiled faintly and nodded. “Now add some real drinks, a bit of cocaine and Amylnitrit and God knows what else to his general paranoia and depressions and - viola! 16

you'll get the results!” He pointed at Raoul. It surprised me to see him that angry. It was not like Cal to get angry when Raoul got himself in a mess. Drinks and drugs were hardy news, so I wondered what got him so riled. “You forgot to mention the absinthe,” Raoul added in a hoarse whisper. “And the pills. I think it was uppers mostly but I'm not sure.” Callum's head snapped around and he stared down at Raoul in silent fury. Raoul managed a weak smile. “He's so mad at me because one is supposed to savour the taste of blood. The memories that come with it, the life it supports. And I can't say I did that tonight. I was in too much of a rush. I just couldn't stop. I just couldn't. I didn't want to miss anything. It was my last chance... My last chance, don't you understand?” He tried to get up and managed to draw himself up to a half sitting position. When a wave of nausea hit him and made him sway, he grabbed hold of Callum's shoulder. Luckily he reached for the uninjured one or else I believe Raoul would've been in serious trouble. Drops of sweat formed on his brow but then his eyes snapped open and fixed on Callum. “You're hurt,” he said. It wasn't a question. Cal jumped to his feet and marched out of the room. He even banged the door behind him, which is something Callum never ever does. Raoul shivered and wrapped his arms around his chest. “Go after him, Stefan,” he ordered. “Go after him and make sure he gets that damn piece of mirror glass out of the wound. No need to make himself suffer as well. It's enough that one of us is doing it over and over again.” He laughed but the sound was lost in the clatter of his teeth. I got up, pulled up the blanket and handed it it him. “I'll go but you must promise me to get some rest,” I told him. Raoul nodded, then reached for my hand. He kissed it and pressed his forehead against my palm. Some kind of fever was burning him up from the inside and yet he smiled as he let go. He sank back onto the pillows, struggled to keep his eyes open for a moment longer and muttered: “Just come back. Come back and be with me when the world ends.” I shook my head and placed a fleeting kiss on his sweaty forehead. He was asleep even before I had left the room. I found Callum in the kitchen. He had poured himself a generous shot of Whiskey and stood sipping his drink in front of the window overlooking the garden. It had turned a bit wild and overgrown in all those years he'd been living here. It had been so neat and tidy when I'd first seen it. “You really are hurt, aren't you?” I asked. “Shall I call Roberto?” Callum whirled around and for a second I feared he would throw his glass at my feet. His eyes were blazing. I could see how the muscles in his jaw worked. His free hand was curled into a tight fist and he still was too angry for words. He shook his head, drowned the rest of his Whiskey and walked over to the counter with deliberately slow steps, back very straight, face devoid of expression. He turned his back on me as he shrugged out of his jacket and tossed it over the next best chair. I sucked in a breath, horrified. The left side of his normally so immaculately white shirt was drenched in blood. It was worst just underneath the

collarbone, had soaked down the shirt front and the sleeve down to the elbow. “That was Raoul in his delirium,” Callum explained. He tried to keep his voice neutral but failed. He only sounded bitter. “Used a piece of mirror glass to stab me. Heaven knows what foul creatures he thought it was fighting!” “Why doesn't it heal like your wounds usually do?” “Because he's got a piece of mirror glass stuck in the wound,” a voice said from behind us. We both turned and found Raoul standing in the doorway. He leaned against the door frame for support. I've no idea how he'd managed to find a new shirt, re-dress and make it down the stairs in the short period of time that had passed since I'd left him asleep on the bed. “Mirrors used to contain silver and as we all know silver's one of the few things that mortal men can use to actually harm a vampire. Why mirror glass still has the effect on us, even though they long since stopped using actual silver in the making of mirrors, I never found out.” Callum just stared at Raoul and I swear you could almost see the sparks flying through the tension-charged air. Raoul inclined his head and nodded like he was accepting a challenge. He pushed himself off the door frame and walked over to where Callum stood stock still. He stopped right in front of him and began to unbutton Callum's ruined shirt. Raoul pulled it from Cal's trousers and carefully lifted it over the injured arm. “Give me a clean towel, some hot water and a pair of tweezers, Stefan, if you would be so kind.” I nodded but Callum grabbed me by the elbow as I wanted to dash off. “Leave it,” he snapped. “I won't let the man who caused this infernal wound to go prodding around in it!” Raoul threw his hands up in the air and rolled his eyes. “If you rather leave it to fester, be my guest but don't complain when you managed to get sepsis!” Callum just glared at him for a moment, then shot back: “I wouldn't have to complain at all if you were more sensible than to try and eradicate the last remains of your common sense with all those drinks and drugs and your futile suicide attempts! Honestly, how many more times to you believe you can call wolf before people stop rushing to your rescue? But that's what you enjoy, isn't it? The bloody attention and now you have all of eternity to seek it out! Damn you, Raoul, damn you!” Cal's outbreak had taken Raoul by surprise. He had retreated step by little step and now hovered near the door frame once more. He swallowed hard a few times and then replied in a cold, dead voice: “At least I'm trying to live life to the full when I'm not busy trying to top myself. Unlike some, who merely exist and let decades pass without even a single spark of passion in their bloody lives!” Callum's eyes widened, then he abruptly turned and walked back over to the window. “Go,” was all he said. Raoul slipped on his sunglasses, threw me an apologetic glance and was gone in a swirl of shadows. The sound of breaking glass made me jump as Callum's empty whiskey glass shattered on the tiled floor. Callum himself swayed dangerously for a moment but managed to steady himself. He walked past me, down the corridor and across to the living room. I knew

because I followed hot on his heels. “Callum, stop. Wait! Let me help you with that wound! It won't do anybody any good if you make yourself ill!” He ignored me and only increased the speed with which he was walking. He crossed the living room and opened the glass doors leading onto the terrace. He went out into the cold even though he was topless and it was only about 5 degrees centigrade. I watched him walk across the terrace, down the small winding path that led deeper into the garden, through the trees that now stood bare and somewhat lost. I went back to the kitchen, poured another glass of whiskey, hurried into the living room, grabbed a woollen blanket from off one of the sofas and went in search of Callum. I found him seated on a step, half hidden behind an evergreen bush of rhododendron. I placed the blanket around his shoulders and sat down next to him. I held out the drink and he took it without even looking at me. He gulped down half of it, then closed his eyes and lifted his head up to the pale sun that was already low above the horizon. Only then did I realized that he was crying. Silent tears were running down his cheek but he did not move or make a sound. So I waited. When he was no longer able to suppress the shivers, Callum got up. He finished his drink and began to march back to the house. “Come on. I hate to admit it, but Raoul's right. Let disinfect this wound and get that piece of glass out of there!” Once again I followed him and was glad when we were back inside, with the glass door firmly closed and the fire blazing in the hearth. “Just a moment, I'm going to get the things we're going to need. You will have to do all the actual work then. Are you up to that, Stefan?” I nodded. “Sure! I'd do anything to help.” Callum looked at me oddly. “Don't say that. Anything it a lot to offer. But I appreciate the sentiment.” As he left the room, I sat down on the rug in front to the fireplace to get warm and tried not to think about just how worried I was about Raoul. Callum came back a few minutes later, sat down on the sofa and placed the things he'd brought on a table in front of it. There was a little bowl with steaming hot water, a couple of small towels, two tiny bottles, a pair of tweezers as well as plasters and bandages. “I just go and wash my hand,” I offered. When I returned, Callum had leaned back on the sofa. He held a little piece of wood in his right hand and nodded grimly as I approached. “Ready?” He asked. I'm not sure if he wanted an answer from me or himself, so I only nodded. I began by dipping a towel in the hot water and wiping the blood off his chest. “Start with the Holy Water then,” Callum instructed when I was done. I reached for one of the little bottles and a fresh towel. He slipped the piece of wood between his teeth and gave a curt little nod. I began to pour the water over the wound and watched in horror as the flesh began to smoke faintly. Callum groaned. I continued to pour and dab at the wound with the towel until I had spent all of the water and the wound looked like most of the flesh had been burned away. I was able to spot the little piece of mirror glass and reached for the tweezers. When I tried to pry the piece of glass out of the deep wound, Callum screamed as the piece of

wood slipped from his mouth. I was beginning to panic. I really had no clue about what I was doing and wished that Raoul was around to guide me. Or even Roberto. I put my hand on Callum's uninjured shoulder to keep him seated and went on prodding around the wound. Once I was convinced I had removed all of the mirror glass, I opened the second bottle of Holy Water and went back to pouring and dabbing. It took several minutes but eventually his flesh stopped smoking. Even as I reached for the plasters and bandages, I could see that it began healing itself. Soon there would not even be a scar left but for now I wrapped up the wound as best I could. Callum sat there with his eyes closed, panting hard. He looked as pale as Raoul had been. After a long moment of silence he turned his head to face me. “Thank you, Stefan. I think that has done the trick. Now let me get dressed.” “And then?” I asked. Suddenly I felt so very tired. All this struggle and for what? “Then, “Callum said as I climbed back to his feet, “we'll get out there and look for that damn fool!” *********

I had escaped into the shadows even though it was such a struggle simply to stay on my feet. I hadn't felt that weak and sick in months. I guess I had foolishly assumed that being a vampire would save me from those bodily inconveniences forever. It was a lesson I had to learn the hard way, as always. It was behind a phone booth in Soho Square that I stepped out of the shadows again. No-one took notice, even though some tourists with cameras slung around their necks were taking photographs nearby. They laughed and posted and seemed blissfully unaware of the the Sword of Damocles which hung over us all. I stood breathing in the cold air for a minute or two and slowly felt my head clear. Nausea, headache and all that aside I felt all strange. Scared beyond comprehension. Yet the resigned sadness that had filled me to the brim those last couple of days, was being burned away by a sudden rage. I pounded my fists against the walls of the phone booth and screamed and howled out my frustration in wordless cries. I had walked through time. I had buried friends and lovers alike. I had fought and lost and sometimes fought and won. I had paid the price over and over again. I had walked on broken glass through hell, battling madness, fears, death and betrayal and for what? For what? To have it all taken away? To have it all end? “It's not fair, it's not fair,” I shouted over and over and did my best to ignore the queer looks I was getting from the passers-by. I only stopped when my throat felt raw and my voice broke. I was shaking all over but was determined to keep going. If this was my last day on earth, I'd be damned if I did not enjoy it! I made it to a pub on Old Crompton Road, which may or may not have been where the notorious serial killer Denis Nilsen, whom the papers had nicknamed The Kindly Killer at the time of the murders, had picked up his victims. The thought

seemed strangely appropriate. The place was fairly packed but that in itself wasn't unusual. It was a Friday afternoon and people were gearing up to kick start the weekend. I found an empty bar stool close to the door, slid onto it and placed a 20 Pound bill on the bar in front of me. When the bar keep arched an eyebrow, I pushed it further into his direction. “As many shot of tequila as it'll buy me, if you please.” He shrugged his shoulder, stuffed the note into his shirt pocket and disappeared. When he came back, he lined up six frost covered glasses in front of me, poured generous shots and finally handed me a small plate with half a lemon, a blunt looking kitchen knife and a salt shaker. I laughed. “If I'd know it was self service here, I'd ordered something else.” “Suit yourself,” the bar keep grinned. “Another 20 bucks will buy you the rest of the bottle.” I nodded and with another shrug of his shoulders the bar keep went back to his business and left me to my own devices. I drank down the first mouthful of Tequila without either the salt or the bit of lemon and shuddered as the liquid ran down my throat. As it hit my stomach, I felt worse than before. Ah, me and my bright ideas! I drank another one, this time in tiny sips and then nibbled on a slice of lemon for the longest time. It slowly dawned on me that I had fucked up royally. I couldn't even remember having ever seen Callum so furious. “I'm sorry,” I muttered into my drink and got up. I left the pub, not caring that I had left four untouched shots of Tequila behind. As my head was spinning and my legs weak, I decided to take a taxi back to Callum's place. It was just past six in the evening when we pulled up on the driveway. I paid the driver and climbed out of the car. I nearly fell as I tried to make my way across the gravel-filled path and up the stairs that led to the front door. I rang the bell and listened. Nothing. No footsteps, no sound. No-one. Damn my rotten luck, they had gone out! I leaned against the polished wood of the door and slowly sank down until I sat on the cold stone. I felt so lost. So totally alone. I was scared and the mindless panic was beginning to take hold of my mind again. I could feel its cold fingers creep over my brain, like tendrils of mist, damp with the icy touch of death. **********

We were stuck in a traffic jam from hell on our way back into the city, when Stefan's mobile rang. “Julian,” he exclaimed, his voice full of surprise. “Hello. Yes, I'm fine. How are you? Good, good. Listen, it's nice to hear from you but I'm kind of busy right now...” His voice faded to silence as he listened and his eyes widened. “Oh. Well, in that case. We're on our way. Thank you, Jules, thank you so much!” I threw him a quizzical look and Stefan smiled at me. “Julian... he's found Raoul. Or

rather Raoul showed up on his doorstep. He seems to be pretty much as he was when he vanished. We can come get him, Julian will keep an eye on him until be arrive.” “He's shown up on Julian's doorstep?” I snorted and shook my head. “Heaven have mercy on our poor Vicar.” “Oh, stop bitching,” Stefan slapped my knee playfully and grinned again. It was rather touching to see how relieved he was to have learned that Raoul was still in one piece. I wouldn've been relieved as well had it not been for the anger that still boiled underneath my calm veneer. Damn Raoul, he'd always known what buttons to push to provoke me. “Yes, yes. Alright. I'll gladly leave the talking to you when we go to collect our lost son.” Of all the people he could've gone to, Raoul had chosen Julian! Julian, who was a Protestant Vicar. A stout little Irish fellow with flaming red hair and a matching beard. He'd helped us in our adventures several times. His knowledge of obscure religious scripts had come in handy as had his knowledge of everything fairy. Why had Raoul gone there? Why? Was he in search of redemption? Did he want to confess his no doubt many sins before his end of world came? Did Protestants even have confession? I doubted it but was not sure. We drove the rest of the way in silence. Croydon looked particular grey and unwelcoming that evening or maybe it was only my mood. I parked the car behind Julian's battered old Volvo in the driveway and was glad that we had taken Stefan's little Ford and not my Jaguar. The limousine would've invited all sorts of trouble, from vandalism to theft, in a rough working-class neighbourhood like this. We rang the bell and immediately a bit of a commotion started inside. I could hear footsteps running along the corridor, voices calling out and laughing. The kids were all in, then. “Charlie, take Kieran back into his room, he's supposed to go to sleep now,” a woman's voice commanded as the door was opened. Julian's wife turned and smiled at us as she brushed a stray lock of her long auburn hair out of her eyes. “Mrs McIntyre,” I greeted her with a small bow. “Charmed to meet you as always.” She laughed as she shook my hand, then hugged Stefan and let us both enter. “You're such a charming liar,” she giggled as she closed the door behind us. “You won't be charmed for long, the house's a mess. Thanks to our three little monsters, who are far too nosey for their own good.” There was some giggling behind us and then a door was pushed open. A boy of about three years of age, dressed in brightly coloured pyjamas, came out, closely followed by a girl of 8 with long curly red hair. She wore a pink ballerina dress over her jeans and T-shirt and beamed as she spotted Stefan. “Hello little ones,” he greeted them and crouched down on the floor to give them both a hug. The girl, Charlotte, giggled as he placed a kiss on her cheek. “Where's your brother?” “Jonah's in the study with daddy and uncle Raoul. I think he fell asleep on the sofa,” Charlie explained.

“Is he now?” I muttered half to myself and refrained from rolling my eyes. Raoul playing nanny was the last thing I had expected. Anne scooped up little Kieran from Stefan's arms and took Charlie's hand. “Come on, the two of you. It's past your bedtime, Kieran. Charlie, you can listen to his good night story, if you want and then you can go play for a while in your room.” I stopped listening to their chatter as they went up the stairs. Another door opened at the far end of the corridor and Julian came out to greet us. He didn't look much like a Vicar and more like a guy you'll expect to meet at the pub around the corner in his faded jeans and cardigan. His hair fell in messy curls just down to his shoulders and the beard hid part of his grin as he strode over to greet us. “Stefan, Callum, how nice to see you!” He shook both of our hands enthusiastically. Then he turned serious and said: “Your friend is in quite a state. He really seems to be convinced that the word will end tonight. He's scared, to say the least. Whatever you do, don't make fun of him, it will only serve to make him want to proof his point.” I didn't really listen. I was still too angry to care much about all that hocus-pocus. I was the first to enter the study and found Raoul sitting on a threadbare sofa that once might have been the colour of milky coffee, a sleeping boy of about five cradled in his arms. Julian squeezed past me and tapped Raoul's shoulder. He looked up, nodded and let Julian take the kid from him. As Julian walked out of the room and no doubt up the stairs after his wife, Raoul slowly climbed to his feet. He looked even paler without his sunglasses. “Listen Cal, I...” he began but I never learned what he had wanted to say. The next thing I knew was that Raoul lay sprawled out on the floor, bleeding from a spilt lip and that I stood there, frozen to the spot with my fist hurting. “Callum!” Stefan shouted and I turned to look at him. Had I just punched Raoul? Sure, he did deserve it but I normally don't go around and solve my problems with violence. Raoul began to laugh. Really laugh. He couldn't stop and soon tears were running down his cheek. Still he laughed and laughed. So hard that he had to gasp for breath. I just stared at him. After a long moment, Raoul managed to speak: “I'm sorry, Cal. I shouldn't have said what I said. It was mean.” I turned. I wanted to flee from the room but Stefan stopped me. He put a hand on my shoulder and said: “Come on, accept his apology. What you said to Raoul wasn't exactly nice either.” “Oh, shut up or...” “Or?” Stefan demanded. “Do you wanna hit me, too?” I heard Raoul chuckle and found myself reaching for Stefan. I had no recollection of making a conscious decision to do what I did, foolish as it might have been, but I kissed him. My lips brushed against his and it was hard to resist the siren's call of temptation. Stefan's lips were so soft and warm. So human. Stefan tensed and I turned away abruptly but only found myself facing Raoul, who had climbed back to his feet. He smiled and held out his hand.

“I really am sorry, Cal,” he said. “Please... I couldn't stand you being cross with me. Not on a day like that. Not when... when...” he swallowed hard a couple of times and averted his eyes. I had glimpsed the only too familiar flicker of panic in them and swallowed down my anger. I drew him close in a tight hug and placed a kiss on his forehead. “You damn old fool, you,” I muttered. “You know damn well that I can never be cross with you for long.” Raoul returned the hug and kissed me, like I had kissed Stefan. “I love you, too,” he whispered. He gave me a shaky smile and looked over my shoulder. “Come here, Stefan. I promise we won't bite.” That remark sent Stefan off in a fit of giggles and even I had to chuckle. Raoul drew Stefan into our embrace. The boy blushed a little but placed sweet little kisses on our cheeks anyway. Then we stood, just silently holding on to each other, for a moment. I could feel the tension in Raoul's body. He was like a coil, which was wound far too tightly. What could we do, I wondered, to ease some of his fears? Julian chose this moment to return. To his credit, he didn't even bat an eyelid. “Sorry to keep you waiting. That took a little longer than expected. The kids are even more unruly than usual, with it being Christmas soon and all.” We stepped apart and I could see how Raoul looked at Julian and blinked, confusion written over his face. I smiled faintly. I bet the end of the world had occupied his thoughts so much that he'd forgotten all about Christmas. “I'm afraid, you must excuse me now, gentlemen,” Julian went on and grinned. “I've got a service to attend to. Believe it or not but this one is held by public demand. You can stay here, Annie will be down in a minute. She'd love the opportunity to chat to you all. Or if tea and self-made biscuits don't sound too appealing, you could always visit the service yourselves.” I was about to say something polite but definite about not being very interested in any service, thank you very much, when Raoul spoke: “I'd like that. Thank you, Jules.” Stefan and I exchanged a look of genuine surprise, but then shrugged our shoulders. It had been decided then. It took Julian a quarter of an hour to get ready, time during which we did chat to Anne. She really was a lovely girl, 12 years her husband's senior and a little plumper around the waist and hips than she had been before the wedding but I guess giving birth to three children can have that effect on you. Her eyes sparkled though and her laughs came easy. She seemed happy and at ease with her life and I found that I envied her for that just a little bit. The service itself was held in a small church just down the road. True to Julian's word, its pews were packed when we entered and it wasn't all old ladies with their prayer books. All sorts of people had come that night: your average well-to-do middle class families, student types, hard working men and women and even a punk or two. We took our seats in the last row. Raoul sat in the middle, with Stefan to his left while I sat facing the aisle. It was cold in that church, but some hundred or more candles cast a festive and cheerful light through the

small space. The congregation fell silent when Julian appeared. The service began with the usual address of the assembled. A prayer and a song followed but only when Julian began to read from the bible did it become clear why his church was packed that night. He had the gift of the Irish. Meaning he was s great story-teller. Not only did he have a way with words, a dry wit and unpretentious intelligence but also a true passion that shone through his words and made even this sermon about – you might have guessed it – the end of the world so engaging. This was no fire and brimstone preacher. This was a man who had found joy and happiness in life, strength in his believe and a calling to follow. Raoul sat perched on the edge of his seat through most of it, the hands in his lab interlocked, his head bowed, eyes closed. He listened intently but refused to join in on the songs. He was trembling ever so slightly and I doubt it was from the chill that clung to the air in the small church. I threw him a worried glance but he only gave me a tight little smile and turned his attention back to Julian's words. I placed a hand on his knee and a little while later, Stefan rested his head on Raoul's shoulder. “So some people claim that the world will come to an end today. What is so special about this, I ask you? Everyday someone's world comes to an end,” Julian began his sermon in earnest after the reading had ended. “When a loved one dies, a relationship breaks apart, when a job is lost or we are diagnosed with a fatal illness. There are many things that can shatter everything we ever took for granted, everything we ever believed in. When one of these things happens, its our own private little world that is turned on its head and indeed sometimes seems to come to an abrupt end. Our next door neighbour might not even notice that an event of such magnitude has occurred in our lives. Then there are wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, famines. Every week brings news of a new catastrophe. There is destruction on an epic scale. Is that a sign of the times? Does it mean that the seven pale riders of the apocalypse will be upon us soon? I don't know about that but I believe that tonight the sun will set and rise again tomorrow. I believe that we all will wake to see another day. I believe that we have been blessed with a life ahead of us. I don't know how long that life will be. I don't know when the world will end. I don't know if we really will hear the great trumpets sounding down from the Heavens, proclaiming a new Jerusalem. As a Christian I believe in the final judgement but I also believe that we should not close our eyes to the glory that it is to be alive. That we should not close our hearts to the love, friendship and kindness we can find all around us, if we only choose to look. That we should not shut our ears to the calls for help from our fellow man. We are only as human as we allow ourselves to be. As kind as we allow ourselves to be. As happy as we allow ourselves to be. So let us pray that the Lord in all his wisdom will give us eyes with which to see, mouths with which to speak and sing and hearts with which to love!” He stepped down from the pulpit as a handful of children came in and began to sing Jesus lives and so shall I. By and by the whole congregation jointed in and even though I didn't know the song or its lyrics felt oddly moved by the whole experience. Raoul had sat up

straight, his eyes glued to to the singing kids. A smile slowly spread across his face. When the service had ended, we were the last to leave. Julian had stood just outside the open doors, patiently shaking hands, listening and chatting and offering words of encouragement when needed. “Thank you for staying for the service,” he said as he locked the door and walked us across the road to his house. “There will be a grand one on Christmas morning and a little midnight service before that on Christmas Eve, if you're interested.” “Not sure if I'll be in London over Christmas,” Stefan said. “Francis might want to go up north to celebrate with his family and then I'll go with him. He might also have to do some promotion in Berlin, it's not quite decided yet.” Julian slapped Stefan's shoulder and smiled. “I know, I know. You're not keen on attending a service. I know it's not your faith but I doubt the Lord would mind that.” “It's not that, it's just...” Julian placed a hand on Stefan's shoulder and made a dismissive gesture with the other. “You don't have to justify yourself. How about you, Callum?” “Me? I haven't believed in anything but survival for a long, long time.” “Hmm,” Julian contemplated my words for a moment. “That sounds a bit lonely.” He held up his hands and laughed in that disarming manner of his. “But I won't preach. Promised. I hope you know that you, and I mean all three of you, are always welcome here. In my house as much as in my church. Why don't you come for tea on the 27 th? Nothing fancy, just a bit of talking in front of the fireplace and a wee bit of my secret stock of the best Irish Whisky you've ever tasted?” “Sounds tempting,” I said. “What do you think?” “I'd love to come, if I'm around,” Stefan agreed. “Raoul?” He looked at me, then at Stefan and finally at Julian. His eyes were darting here and there and never stayed focused on any one thing for long. He was still scared. “I...” he began, ran his hand through his hair, then slipped his sunglasses back on. “I... I don't know. Can I...? Can I tell you tomorrow?” Julian placed his hands on Raoul shoulders and looked him in the eyes. “Sure. You can tell me any time. Do you still have my number?” Raoul nodded and Julian stepped back and drew the cardigan righter around himself. It was funny how much different a robe and holy scarf made. “Very well then, it's all settled. Just give me or Annie a call. Good night, gentlemen!” We said our goodbyes and without as much as a word, Raoul got into the car with us. “And now?” He asked as he buckled up his seatbelt. “And now,” I said as I started up the engine. “I'll drive us home. To my place that it. We'll have dinner and then we'll go to bed and I'll make coffee at breakfast.”



Dinner was a quiet affair. Callum had provided sandwiches, some cold cuts and cheese along with some wine. I think he drank most of it, I had hardly more than a glass and Callum point blank refused to pour Raoul even one drop. We managed to pass the time with some pointless chatter but no-one's heart was really in it. Raoul especially was just going through the motions. He hardy ate anything and his replies were mostly mono-syllabic. By the time the hands on the clock reached 11, Raoul was so nervous he was shaking all over and had knocked over his cup of tea twice. “Can we go somewhere?” He asked and jumped to his feet for that felt like the millionth time in the last fifteen minutes. “And where would you go?” Callum asked. He sounded weary. He did his best to hide his annoyance but did not quite succeed. “I don't know,” Raoul shouted as he prowled through the room. Restless and afraid of his own shadow at the same time. “Why don't we go outside? Up, on that big roof terrace of yours?” I suggested, looking at Callum. “Let's just grab our coats and go. You guys can smoke and we can watch the stars and the moon.” Raoul rushed over to me and hugged me like I was his long lost brother. “Yes! Yes, let's do that.” Not ten minutes later we all stood on said roof terrace. I wore the anorak I had put on this morning again but had borrowed gloves and a scarf from Callum, who looked a bit like he was about to attend a funeral, dressed as he was from head to toe in black, including his long, heavy woollen overcoat. Of course I didn't say that aloud. Raoul would've only taken that as a point that proved he was right about the whole end of the world thing. Raoul had put on his leather jacket but had grudgingly accepted a scarf that Callum had handed him. It was a tartan scarf, with the colours and distinctive pattern of Clan Sinclair. Normally it would've caused Raoul to huff and complain but that night he hardly even glanced at it. “I forgot you can't see the stars any more,” he said as he lit a cigarette. “London's too bright these days. Too much light emission.” He sighed and walked over to the edge of the terrace where a wall that came up to his chest ran along the edge. Callum followed and stood next to him. For a moment they both looked out over the dark and silent park. “Close you eyes,” I heard Callum say. “Close your eyes and you can see the stars as they used to shine above the city. I'll show you.” They fell silent once more and I dared not interrupt. When Raoul finally spoke it was in a hushed whisper: “We used to come up here, to Primrose Hill to study the night skies, didn't we?”

“Yes,” Callum said. His voice had a dreamy quality to it. “You were interested in deciphering the signs. What signs that were and what they would mean, you never told me. But I was content. To look at the milky way and the scattered stars, to draw maps and freeze. I was content with that because...” He faltered for a second but then went on: “Because I was alone with you then. During those nights there was just the two of us, no Gregroi, no Marcus, no-one.” “I'm sorry,” I heard Raoul whisper and then the spell was broken. Both men opened their eyes and looked at each other. Callum walked away first. Raoul followed nearly a minute later. We all stood close together and watched the moon in silence. How much time passed became measured by Raoul's cigarettes. He smoked one after the other, piling up butts to his feet. Smoke danced over his head and made him look just a little bit like a ghost. “How late is it?” He asked after the longest time. I glanced at my wrist watch. “Five minutes to midnight,” I told him. Raoul sucked in a breath and staggered back. His face was so pale that it seemed to consist of only his huge dark eyes. “Can you do a countdown, please?” He asked. I wanted to protest but the look on his face stopped me. I simply nodded instead. He began walking around, prowling from one end of the terrace to the other. Callum watched him in silence. “Four minutes to midnight,” I announced, feeling silly. Just watching Raoul, how he wrung his hands together and trembled as he tried to light yet another cigarette, had made me nervous as well. I felt my stomach tie itself into a tight knot and threw Callum a look. What are we going to do? Callum shrugged his shoulders and continued to fix Raoul with his ever watchful eyes. “Three minutes to midnight.” Raoul threw his head back and howled. It was a creepy sound that echoed over the dark trees. A wordless cry of anger, frustration and pain. It send shivers down my spine and I shuddered. “Two minutes to midnight.” Raoul sank to his knees and bowed his head. He remained crouched down low, as if he was afraid that something would come raining down on his head. Fire and brimstone, maybe. Callum strode over and stood behind Raoul, his hands on Raoul's shoulder. “One more minute to midnight,” I finally said. I went and crouched down next to Raoul, clutched one of Callum's hand and put one hand on Raoul's cheek and waited. Raoul sat unnaturally still, he had even stopped shaking but somehow that made me even more nervous. “30 seconds,” I continued the countdown in a hoarse whisper. “20 seconds, ten, five...” We all held our breaths and at least I counted the last few seconds in my head. The last four seconds of the 21 st of December passed, midnight came and nothing happened. We remained there, all huddled together for what felt like ages. Then Raoul stirred. Callum took half a step back. I tried to climb back to my feet but found that my legs had gone numb and landed on my bum instead. Raoul looked at me. His face was tear-stained and still far too pale but he laughed. He laughed and hugged me and them jumped to his feet and hugged Callum. “It's over, it's over and we're still here,” he exclaimed and giggled. “God, I was never so glad to see you, both of you. This is the best, oh come here!” He babbled on and on but I

didn't mind. I was too relieved to see that somehow Raoul had shaken himself our the black hole he'd been lost in for too long. Right now I didn't even care that it was most likely the beginning of another manic phase that would have him fly too close to the sun only to crash down to earth like Icarus. He hugged us again and again and peppered our faces with kisses. Callum wiped the tears from Raoul's face and smiled. Just one look at him and it was easy to see that all of his earlier anger had melted away and all that was left was affection and tenderness. Raoul drew us into another group hug. He kissed first me, then Callum. Kissed us like there really was no tomorrow, full of passion and fire. When he stopped to catch his breath, he was grinning from ear to ear. Callum looked at me, almost shyly. I nodded and reached out to stroke his cold cheek. I kissed him and he kissed me and soon that kiss became as passionate and drunk on life as Raoul's kiss had been. Raoul slapped our shoulders. “Shall we all go to bed then?” He suggested. It was hard to miss the twinkle of mischief in his eyes and we both nodded. **********

We did go to bed, all three of us but I'm afraid that apart from some cuddling and kissing nothing much happened that night. I know, what a shame! What a missed opportunity! Truth be told, that night I was just glad to be alive. I was content with companionship and trust. I was exhausted, physically and mentally. Every bone in body ached, I noticed as I lay down on the middle of the big bed in Callum's master bedroom. “Hold me,” I whispered as another wonderful kiss ended and let Callum draw me close to his chest, my head resting on his shoulder, just underneath his head. Stefan snuggled up close to my back, drew the blanket tightly around us and sighed. His warm breath tickled in my ear and it was the best feeling in the world. I closed my eyes and saw only darkness there. The simple, inviting darkness that sings of Morpheus' sweet embrace. The Heavens remained silent and no fire rained down from them to scorch the pour earth below. Stefan's smile and Callum's voice popped up in my dreams. Words of a song echoed through them - “Child of darkness, child of light, your guiding star will shine tonight...” - and I felt safe. Nevertheless I woke up with a start some time later. It was still dark in the room and the only sounds were Stefan's soft breaths and Callum's little snores. I sat up in bed and rubbed my eyes. What a day it had been! The end of the world... Bloody hell, I can be such an idiot! I'd been handed eternity and acted like a frightened child. I could do better than that. I ought to do better than that. I owed it to Callum. To Stefan. To Ellie. To all of my friends. To everybody who'd taken risks just to see me through another dark night of the soul. I owed it to them but most of all, I owed it to myself. I smiled as I watched the two men next to me sleep. I was glad to have them right beside me and felt proud to know such honest and true people,

to count them as my friends. Thinking about Stefan, about how young he still was in so many ways, how he would age and die eventually, was the only thing that clouded the perfect moment. The sadness would live in my heart forever but I would not tempt him. Not now, not ever. Too many decisions had been taken from me and I would not do the same to sweet little Stefan. I sat there and listened to the old grandfather clock down in the hallway strike the hours. 4 o'clock. I smiled and breathed a small sigh of relieve. Now midnight had come and gone even on the other side of the world, in Mexico City and all those ancient temples and pyramids. And we were still here. I wanted to laugh, to dance, to hug the whole world close. 5 o'clock came and then 6 o'clock and I began to feel restless. I got up, as quietly as I could. I stood at the end of the bed for moment, holding my breath but neither Stefan nor Callum had stirred. I quickly dressed in the dark and left the room. I went down to the kitchen and made coffee and tea and toast. I took cups and plates and some jam upstairs, to the roof top terrace and kept the drinks and toast warm underneath one of those preposterous silver domes Cal was so fond of and went to wake the boys. “Boys,” I thought to myself and giggled as I walked down the stairs. Some boys they were! One was 34 but still had the face of a cute little kid, the other was older than the last century. “Wake up,” I whispered into Stefan's ear and marched my fingers down Callum's neck. I blew into his ear and repeated: “Wake up.” Curses were muttered. Stefan yawned open mouthed and Callum pulled the blanket over his head. I laughed and took it from him. “What's the matter?” He asked as he sat up and glared at me. “Nothing,” I said with my sweetest smile. “I made breakfast. The end of the world is over, in Mexico and nearly everywhere else. I thought we should celebrate. Come on, dress warmly. You can go back to bed after that.” They followed me a little reluctantly up the stairs and out into the chilly early morning air. Stefan poured us our drinks and Callum shook his head as he sipped his coffee. “I don't believe this. What on earth are we doing here?” “Waiting for the sunrise,” I said. I felt a little foolish to say those worlds. Was it childish to be so grateful to be alive and with the best friends a man can wish for? Callum just nodded. His face expression softened. Stefan beamed. “Lovely idea!” We stood shoulder to shoulder, sipping our drinks and waited. The sky began to brighten gradually. Velvet black faded to midnight blue and then indigo. Gold, orange and a deep red crept up over the horizon and spread. As it grew lighter, the clouds were glowing in shades of liquid bronze and fiery red. It was beautiful. The sight made me smile and cry at the same time. Callum and Stefan both placed a hand on my shoulders and squeezed softly. “Thank you,” I whispered. “For making me want to see another day dawn.” My guiding star really must have shone last night, I was convinced of it!


Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful